Being unlucky in love could leave you heartbroken this Valentine’s Day – but becoming a victim of romance fraud could also break the bank.
That’s the message from our cyber crime experts today as part of a joint campaign from the force and Get Safe Online to tackle the issue – which cost Brits £27 million in the last year alone.
According to the latest figures from Get Safe Online and National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), more than 2,700 dating related crimes were reported to police in the last 12 months, with an average loss of £10,000.
However, it is feared that there may be many more victims out there who are too embarrassed to come forward.
Here in the Humberside force area victims have been targeted via social networking and dating sites.
Detective Inspector Rich Osgerby said: “The vast majority of people who use online dating sites do so for legitimate reasons and it can be a great way for people to meet.
“However, it’s important that when you form relationships with people you meet online, that you apply the same level of caution you would if you met a stranger on a night out.
“There is a small minority of people out there who look to exploit vulnerable people and take advantage of their good nature – and unfortunately, it can end up costing their victims thousands.”
In one case, a Hull man handed over £80,000 to a woman he met online, who claimed she needed the money for health care and other expenses.
The con went on for more than three years before he contacted police, but dropped charges when she promised to pay back the money.
Officers are also currently investigating after an elderly Hull woman who signed up to a dating site for older people was conned into ‘investing’ £4,000.
She had been approached by a man claiming to be a widower, who said he needed financial assistance for a business venture.
Other cases have seen victims being blackmailed after being persuaded to engage in sexual activity with people they have met via dating apps or social media.
Often explicit pictures are exchanged or applications such as Skype or OooVoo are used to video chat.
Last April, Grimsby-born Karen Bell was jailed for 12 months after blackmailing a man she had met on online dating site Plenty of Fish.
She claimed she had a recording of them acting out a sexual fantasy, during which she spanked him with a trainer and demanded he handed over cash or she would post the video online.
Officers are currently investigating reports an Ulceby man is being blackmailed by a man he had contacted via Grinder.
Only after they had become involved in a sexual exchange did the suspect – who had originally said he was 18 – claim to be only 15-years-old and demand cash in exchange for his silence.
Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online commented: “What’s frustrating is that there are a minority of people who use online dating as a forum to target vulnerable people, knowing if they invest a lot of time into building a relationship with someone, they could potentially steal a lot of money. This is demonstrated by the huge amount lost to online dating related crimes last year, with the average loss standing at a worrying £10,000.
“The financial loss is one thing, but it’s the emotional impact this sort of crime has which is severe. When someone places a lot of trust and faith in a person who they think they know, they often don’t separate their emotional feelings from rationale. Often when victims do start to suspect something isn’t quite right, they’re already in deep, so it’s extremely easy to ignore those little niggles of doubt and choose to trust someone – it’s this factor which online criminals exploit.
“It’s important to remember that it’s highly unlikely anyone legitimate would ask for any kind of financial assistance for whatever reason. Plus, if there are any immediate doubts, speak to a family member or friend to get a second, more objective opinion. If someone is keen to take their contact off the dating site very quickly, this could be a sign that they have something to hide.”
Tell-tale signs your online date may be a fraudster and advice on protecting yourself:
• They want to communicate with you through instant messaging and texts, rather than through the dating website or chat room where you met
• They ask you lots of questions about yourself, but don’t tell you much about themselves
• They don’t answer basic questions about where they live and work
• Their profile picture is too perfect – for example they look like an actor or Miss World titleholder
• They start asking you to send them money using a number of different scenarios such as:
- Claiming to be military personnel based overseas who require funds for flights home or early discharge from the forces
- Citing medical related issues they need money for such as a sudden need for surgery, either for the fraudster or the fraudster’s family member
- They’ve arranged to visit you but need money to pay travel costs
• Trust your instincts - if you think something feels wrong, it probably is
• Choose a site that will protect your anonymity until you choose to reveal personal information and that will enforce its policies against inappropriate use
• Do not post personal information, such as phone numbers, on dating sites
• Never send money or give credit card or online account details to anyone you don’t know and trust
• Wait until you feel comfortable with an individual before telling them things like your phone number, place of work or address
• Be extremely wary about removing clothes or doing other things in front of your webcam that could be used against you - even if you think you know the other party
• Use a dating site that offers the ability to email prospective dates using a service that conceals both parties’ true email addresses
• Set up a separate email account that does not use your real name
• Pick a user name that does not include any personal information. For example, “joe_glasgow” or “jane_liverpool” would be bad choices
• Finally, meet for the first few times in a safe place with plenty of people around, and tell a family member or friend where you are
If you think you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre by calling 0300 123 20 40 or by visiting Action Fraud.
For further advice on how to stay safe online go to Get Safe Online or visit the Cyber Security - Has It Clicked? pages of the force website.